Blown Call – Now What?

By:  John Van de Vaarst  National Clinician

Every referee goes to a game with an attitude and desire to officiate a perfect game.  Unfortunately none of us are perfect so what do we do when we make a mistake, miss a call, or make a bad decision.  This month’s article will explain some play situations that were observed and how they were handled and whether the mistake impacted the game.  Each example given was personally witnessed.

The first example deals with a Division I men’s game in an excellent conference.  At the start of the second half a foul was called near the halfway line and touch line on the bench side.  The referee pointed that the foul was in favor of the home team.  A few seconds later the referee realized that the teams had switched ends for the start of the second half and reversed the decision a pointed the other way.  During this short amount of time several players from the home team started moving up for the attack.  When the opponents observed the change of direction by the referee, they put the ball down and took the kick.  Since the defense was not in position, it took a total of three touches and the ball was in the goal.  The referee awarded a goal.  This was the only goal scored in a highly contested game.  Needless to say the home coach was not pleased with the performance.  The mistake of pointing in the wrong direction can happen to anyone, especially in a very tough game.  So what are some of the options the referee could have used to prevent the quick kick.  One option would be to blow the whistle and verbally state “hold the kick” and talk to a player about a previous situation or check their equipment for a few moments so that the defense has time to set up.  Another is to “hold the kick and wait for the whistle” and explain to the coach what happened.  Again this would give the defense the opportunity to align themselves.

The next situation is a playoff game at the Division III level  The two teams involved are from the same conference and already played each other twice during the season.  In the second half a ball is played long toward the touchline near the home bench on the referee diagonal.  The referee is sprinting to catch up with play.  The assistant referee near the visiting bench raises the flag to indicate the ball crossed the line into touch before the player caught up to it and continued toward the goal line.  The referee was observing the play and sprinting and failed to look back at the assistant to see if the ball went into touch.   The play continues and the ball is crossed and kicked into the goal.  The question is what should the assistant referee do and what should the referee do?  Since the assistant referee raised the flag.  In this instance the assistant was able to get the referee’s attention and quickly described to him what happened.  The goal was disallowed and the game was restarted with a throw in where the ball went into touch.  The situation could have been easily prevented if the referee practiced better mechanics and making sure there was a quick glance back to the assistant when the ball was so close to the touch line.

The third situation involves a division I women’s game with a senior referee and two senior assistant referees.  A player was in an off side position near the touch line and half-way line on the bench side.  The assistant referee was in position.  When the ball was played,  the player moved back to her own half of the field to receive the ball.  The assistant referee raised the flag for offside since the player moved from an offside position to her own half to receive the ball.  The referee waived the assistant down and said “she is in her own half.”  The assistant gave a hand signal to attempt to indicate over and back but the referee allowed the play to continue.  After the game the referee told the assistant that he was in error in raising the flag.  The assistant explained to the referee that she went from an offside position and that was clearly offside.  The referee continued to argue the point until the assistant opened the rule book and showed the referee the diagram for offside that was identical to the play.  This type of situation should never happen at the intercollegiate level.  The referee team should be students of the rules and not make a mistake on such a basic play.

The last situation was during a very difficult high school game with neighboring teams.  Each team had a player that went on to play at a major Division I program and then the professional level.   A duel system of control was being used and two veteran officials were assigned.  Shortly after the teams switched ends, a ball was played forward and the referee sounded the whistle.  The home coach, who was near the official, asked “what was the call?”   The referee quickly responded by saying ” All three of your defenders are off side, I forgot we switched ends.  We are going with it though since no one else knows.”  Fortunately the coach laughed and the indirect kick was taken.  Technically this was a misapplication of the rules.   When there is an inadvertent whistle, the game should be started with a drop ball.  Although the game was restarted improperly, there was no impact on the game and the referee did not suffer for the error.

In summary, every official is going to make a mistake or more than one during a game.  The key is to do whatever possible to minimize the impact of the error so it does not affect the impact of the game.